Housing Clinic Files SCOTUS Brief on Behalf of Consumers in USDA v. Kirtz
The Housing Clinic at Yale Law School filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in October arguing that the civil-liability provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) waive the sovereign immunity of the United States. The clinic, a hub for consumer law at the Law School, submitted the brief in support of respondent, Reginald Kirtz, at the Supreme Court in United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development Rural Housing Service v. Reginald Kirtz, which the Court heard on Nov. 7.
In the case, the Housing Clinic, along with the Berkeley Center for Consumer Law and Economic Justice, the National Consumer Law Center, and Public Justice, supported Reginald Kirtz in a conflict over whether the civil-liability provisions of FCRA unequivocally and unambiguously waive the sovereign immunity of the United States.
“When nongovernmental furnishers and users of credit information misreport or misuse personal data, consumers unequivocally have an important remedy under FCRA,” said clinic member Pragya Malik ’24. “Consumers harmed by government errors should receive the same protection.”
The amici argue that both the plain text of FCRA and its express purpose establish that FCRA unambiguously applies to federal agencies when they mishandle consumer credit information. Congress enacted FCRA out of a recognition that the health of the national economy depends on fair and accurate credit reporting. Credit reports and scores can determine everything from where someone lives to where she works or whether her small business survives. The federal government plays a central role in the distribution and use of this data for millions of Americans across critical segments of the economy, such as in agriculture and veterans’ affairs. FCRA’s rules and corresponding liability provide the necessary incentive to preserve the accuracy of consumer credit information.
Amici also argue that applying FCRA’s civil-liability provisions to federal agencies does not undermine the Privacy Act, which serves a different purpose and can operate in tandem with FCRA.
“A straightforward reading of the text of FCRA establishes that the relevant provisions unambiguously apply to the federal government, and the accuracy of that reading is confirmed by its consonance with the fundamental purpose of the Act,” said clinic member Melissa Kay ’24.
The Housing Clinic maintains an active appellate caseload and has participated in more than 30 different appellate matters as counsel or amicus. This is the fifth time since 2015 that the Housing Clinic has participated as amicus in a consumer law case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I was thrilled that we were able to take the Clinic’s real-world, direct services work and explain to the Court why this case was important to consumers, rather than just a theoretical exercise,” said Clinical Lecturer in Law and Housing Clinic co-supervisor Jeff Gentes.